“There’s not a thing you can do about it. You just have to receive it.” Have you ever had one of those moments? You know the one… where somebody blows you away with a story, a moment, a gift, a kindness that leaves you speechless? There’s not a thing you can do about it. You may stammer for a minute or try to refuse the gift or truly be at a loss for words. “I can’t accept it,” we’ll say with all sincerity and genuineness. “It’s too much. I don’t deserve it. Thank you, but no. I can’t.” That’s the way it is with Easter. “He’s not here,” the angel says. “Wait. What?” “He’s not here.” “You mean his body’s been moved?” “No. I mean he ain’t here!” And the grin of that angel must have about exploded off the edges of his cheeks… sort of like my six-year-old when he knows a secret and gets to be the one to share the news out loud. (and… to be honest, his timing isn’t always the best… but that’s another story). “Easter!” the angel says. “He gone! There’s not a thing you can do about it. Just receive it.” If it happened today, the angel would have called them over, “Look, I snapped this selfie with Jesus after he came out of the tomb.” But no such thing, so… logic chimes in on the conversation. This can’t be. And still a bit baffled but starting to sense the angel’s carrying the prank too far at this point… I mean we’re talking about death and grief here which is not the funniest of subjects… the women at the tomb say, “Are you foolin’ me?”
And there it is. April Fool’s Day. You knew it was coming. It’s too hard to avoid the irony. And what are the chances – Easter on April Fool’s Day? Well, I’m glad you asked. Not great. Since 1700, Easter has landed on April Fool’s Day only eleven times. In percentages, that’s 3.5 percent. It’s been 62 years since these events have collided. Though it will happen in 2029 and 2040 respectively, that will be it for another 68 years. It’s hard to avoid the opportunity to ponder our most central and sacred act of the Christian faith through the eyes of a fool. Paul was one who was more than happy to claim the foolish title. He said, and I paraphrase, “While the cross and subsequent resurrection may be foolishness to those who are perishing, to us it is the very power of God.” “He is not here. He has risen just as he said.” And that’s no foolin.’ Oh, the pranks. Some of you are into that, I’m sure. My wife, Carrie, worked for a State Farm agent when we lived in Indianapolis. One April Fool’s Day, she led the charge with her colleagues to get the agent’s car keys and move his car around to the parking lot out back of the agency. It went down better than they could have hoped. Keys removed. Car relocated. Keys replaced safely in their expected spot. Nobody dare leave before Bob and miss what would surely be a priceless reaction. And it finally it came. Bob, with keys in hand, exited the agency and the team just stared as he stood in the middle of the parking lot, slowly realizing his car was missing. The look on his face! He came back into the office in shock… I’m glad he didn’t have heart issues. Anyway, they came clean and they laughed about it ever since.
One famous prank from April 1, 1957 was pulled off by the BBC and has been called “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled.” It was part of their Current Affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti, in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC was later flooded with requests to purchase spaghetti plants. At first, the BBC told callers to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” But with hundreds of calls, they finally ‘fessed up on the news the next day that it was an April Fool’s prank. What do you do when you’ve been fooled? You can get mad about it. You can laugh about it. We all receive such things differently, don’t we?
It’s sort of like Easter. There’s not a thing you can do about it. You just have to receive it. Do you struggle in the receiving of Easter; you know, like we do with extravagant gifts or extraordinary surprises or Oprah giving you a car? It’s okay if you do. For every one of us, every stage of life, of belief, of skepticism, or apathy or grief or even anger, there’s somebody in the Easter story that’s in a similar place. You’ve got the Mary’s who are grieving the loss. You may have such sadness in your life right now, you feel frustrated with the people dressed like Easter Peeps with painted smiles on their faces. You may look at Easter as Peter first did. He left the empty tomb scratching his head, “Puzzled” the text says. You think? Maybe that’s you. Maybe you couldn’t wait to get that bowtie on this morning and get to this house of worship to shout from the depths of your soul, “Christ is risen, indeed!” Then you’d love John… he enters the tomb and instantly believes that Jesus has done just what he said he’d do. Thomas needs more proof. The guards are panicked they are going to lose their jobs. The authorities realize a new public relations issue is on their hands. We all have a part in the story of Easter. I absolutely love that about our story of faith. The Gospels don’t glaze over the struggle many had with the experience of the resurrection. And, as you can imagine, it takes some time to process something like that. Heck, we’re still processing it two thousand years later.
The Apostle Paul wrestled with this reality with the budding Jesus-followers under his care. There’s as good of evidence as any in his first letter to the Corinthian church. Paul quickly gets to this foolishness of the cross business because there was some quarreling going on in the church. And I tell you, some people are really drawn to the quarreling. Some people like to get in there and mix it up and debate the details as opposed to getting on board with the overall need and vision of the movement. People are never going to agree on everything… just think of the vast experiences and backgrounds of the people in this very room at this very moment for instance. We’ve all experienced beauty and tragedy and had parents who raised us differently… or we didn’t really have any active parental presence whatsoever. We’ve traversed the religious landscape or the world of academia or the school of hard knocks. I could give you a topic right now… one of a thousand most likely… and say, “Turn to your neighbor and discuss such and such topic” and just watch as we discover the variety of experiences and points of view present here – some to your delight and some to your chagrin. It’s not that those things aren’t important for us to discuss and grow and learn from each other… it’s just that those things can sometimes become such a focus that we lose sight of our initial and utmost purpose as a community.
The Corinthians are quarreling… mostly about who’s teaching they preferred. Who was right. Whose baptism was best. Who told the funniest jokes in their sermons. And Paul says, “I’m glad I didn’t baptize a one of you.” He recants and says, parenthetically, “Except for you and you and that guy over there… and, shoot, I can’t remember now if I baptized anyone else or not… but otherwise, I know I didn’t baptize most of you… I just don’t want to be the focus of your argument.” There’s too much good at stake. Paul says, “Christ didn’t send me to be the baptism guy anyway but simply to proclaim the Gospel.” And he also says this, “And I’m glad I’m not that great of a speaker either so that you’re not getting lost in the presentation but are focused on the cross of Christ.” It was sort of his way of saying, “Don’t get lost in the non-essentials… look at what’s happened. EASTER! There’s nothing you can do about it. Just receive it.”
But how frustrating for some of the folks in that Corinth church. They wanted the facts. It has to be the way they’ve learned it or the whole thing blows up. But it’s always more than that, right? There’s got to be some foolish mystery to the whole thing or it wouldn’t require any matter of faith. Pulitzer Prize winning author and poet, Boris Pasternak, said it like this: “What is laid down, ordered, factual is never enough to embrace the whole truth: Life always spills over the rim of every cup.” Life, truth, faith, Easter… always spills over the rim of every cup. There’s more than we can hold in our minds, in the facts, in the heart. There’s not more that we can do about it. We just receive it in all its mysterious glory. And I know that’s easier said than done. ‘Because our lives.’ Period. We’re waiting on the tests to come back. We’re trying to get our taxes figured. We’re wondering if nuclear war breaks out today… or will it wait a week? ‘And you want me to just receive Easter? My life doesn’t feel all that eastery.’
Nope. ‘I’m coming to service because my wife, my husband, my grandma, my daughter, my neighbor said we’d eat ham and deviled eggs afterwards and so I’m here but this is just going to be one more event in my life that becomes a dot on a wall that won’t connect with any other dots to form a line with any beauty or meaning at all.’ One writer, in describing this feeling we all have sometimes said, “I feel like I’m in a Discovery Channel clip showing wildebeests at a watering hole. The voice-over is telling viewers that wildebeest’s lives don’t have to be stories, the way people’s lives do. Wildebeests only have to exist, lucky things, and they’ve done a good job of being alive on earth – as does pretty much everything on the planet save for human beings.” And this telling follow up: “I feel like a taxidermied version of myself. How quickly time passes, and how your mistakes add up one day to something less than what you wanted.” Do you ever feel like a taxidermied version of yourself – of the life that your soul longs to get out from under? Do you ever wish you just had a few of those pizza-sized black circles that cartoon characters throw onto the ground—portable holes – which they jump into to escape difficult, frustrating, or soul-killing situations? Sometimes this comes as we try so hard to make Easter work for us instead of just receiving it, in all of its glory, for the gift that it is.
It’s why Paul goes into this whole conversation about wisdom and foolishness. He writes with understanding that they’re struggling. They’re trying to figure it all out… what’s right… who to believe… how to connect the dots of the whole thing. He says, “Jesus knew this wasn’t easy.” The disciples struggled with his teaching. And Paul recalls a couple of quotes from Isaiah in this passage to the Corinth believers… “I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head.” the prophet says. “I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.” That’s the Message translation of those quotes anyway. Not sure Isaiah used the word ‘crackpot.’ But he’s getting at those who feel like they’ve got it all figured out. It was as if Paul is saying, “Don’t water down what Jesus did on the cross and the power of his resurrection by finding plausible ways to reduce the gift to some marginal explanation.” That’s why Paul says, “I know it doesn’t make sense.” The Jews pointed to their own law in Deuteronomy that says, “He that is hanged is accursed by God.” No Messiah would die on a cross. The crucifixion did little to prove to them that he was the Son of God. In fact, to the Jewish community, it finally and fully disproved that Jesus could be the Messiah. To the Greeks, Paul says, “They’ll never buy into a god who has feelings.” In Greek philosophy, the first characteristic of God was apatheia. That word means more than apathy; it means total inability to feel. They would argue that if God can feel joy or sorrow or anger or grief it means that some human has for that moment influenced God and is therefore greater than God. It follows, then, that God must be incapable of feeling and thus Jesus is out of the running for such a title. This doesn’t summarize the whole bit but Paul is saying, “I know this seems foolish… but I’ve seen the transformation. I’ve experienced it myself. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Jesus’ willingness to take on the cross. His rising on the third day. The hope that is found in such inexplicable foolishness is a fool’s quest I readily embrace.
Like Paul, I’m not here today to offer any evidence, battle you point/counter point on how every piece of Easter works… I’m here to bask as a fool in the gift that Easter happened. There’s nothing you or I can do about it. We just get to receive it. And I celebrate that today like none other. I’ve given my life to this gift. People will ask, “Do you really believe this stuff?” And all I can say is, “Not only do I believe it. I’m counting on it.” Call me a fool but I’ve never known a freedom like the one I find in Jesus Christ. In him, I’m not the sum of my conditions. In him, I’m not the sum of my circumstances. In him, I’m a child of God, a free recipient of the eternal gift of resurrection. It’s more complicated than that but today it’s not. Who hoo! Today I count it all joy!
Douglas Coupland, a great Canadian fiction writer shares a dialogue between two women in his book “Player One: What is to Become of Us.” It’s not connected to the new Spielberg movie if you’re wondering. In the book, as these two women are having a “What’s the point of life?” conversation of sorts, one says to the other, “Rachel, I work in a psychiatrist’s office. I see people all day, in and out of their conditions. Who they are at any given time is usually based on whether they’re sticking to their meds.” “What’s your conclusion? Are these people really people? Or are they only their conditions?” the other replied. “I think we’re everything: our brain’s wiring, the things our mothers ate when they were pregnant, the TV show we watched last night, the friend who betrayed us in the tenth grade, the way our parents punished us. These days we have PET scans, MRIs, gene mapping, and massive research into psychopharmacology- so many ways of explaining the human condition. Personality is more like a … a potato salad composed of your history plus all of your body’s quirks, good and bad. Tell me, Rachel, and be honest: if you could take a pill and be ‘normal,’ would you?”
If you could take a pill – bypass the depths of life with all of its pain and redemptive love – would you? What are you living for? I had a friend say to me this week, “Just think, in sixty years, you could be Sister Jean!” Jean Dolores Schmidt is star of this year’s NCAA tournament and 98-year-old nun and chaplain for the Loyola of Chicago Ramblers. She has her own bobble head doll — $300 on eBay. The team wear her name on their shoes. And this pic may be my favorite: Sister Jean in the huddle. Not a bad life! What kind of life are you seeking? What I want to say today is this: normal isn’t our goal today. Our conditions – no matter the pain they bring us — aren’t what define us today… or ever. Uniquely free. Easter people. A fool for Christ – that’s what we’re after today. Can you receive it? How? Embrace the moment. Live the moments of your life free from all that longs to hold you captive.
Last Sunday, I was talking with one of my very favorite young men of the church. “John E!” I call him. And his weekly handshake and his thoughtful, and honest, comment about life or the sermon of the day are one of my Sunday highlights. And last week, we were twinsies! And he was taken by it as was I and we had to have a picture to commemorate the moment. Here it is… And it’s more than twinsies… it’s a culmination of all that we’ve shared in life thus far. It’s joy of the moment. It’s the joy of Easter foolery with my brother John E. It’s life spilling over the rim of the cup. We’re doing this Easter life together. It’s getting lost in the story of a child or the inspiration of the courage of another’s compassion or the freedom of the dance. I’m a two-left-feet sort of dancer and typically save others from the visual of my dancing. But I have a friend… arguably with the same two left feet as I have… who comes alive on the dance floor and it never fails to draw me in… to celebrate the moment… to be a dancin’ fool… to receive the gift of the moment knowing I’m alive… I’m not simply a wildebeest at the watering hole as God-loved as those wildebeests may be. That’s how I feel today. Alive in Christ. Risen in the moment. For Easter is here and there’s not a thing I can do about it. I simply get to receive it. Claim it! Celebrate it! Share it with you! I hope you’ll be foolish enough to receive it too.
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 Exegetical support found in William Barclay’s commentary on “The Letters to the Corinthians.” Westminster Press. 1975.
 Player One: What is to Become of Us. Douglas Coupland. Anansi Publishing. 2010. The Discovery Channel illustration included in this message is also drawn from this book.